He won it that way: AJ McLean tops the ‘Dancing with the Stars’ leaderboard for the first time with this samba [WATCH]

Maybe the samba isn’t so scary after all. Many celebs on “Dancing with the Stars” have struggled with it in the past, and Skai Jackson and Carole Baskin had trouble with it earlier this season. But on “Top 11” night it was smooth sailing for Backstreet Boys singer AJ McLean, who had his best night all season, despite a clip package in which he kept apologizing to his pro partner Cheryl Burke for missteps during training. Watch his performance above, and see what the judges had to say about it below.

Bruno Tonioli: “Oh my god! Don’t be sorry, just do it! I know why he does it: he likes to be slapped by Cheryl the dominatrix. But I tell you, the slapping works because you’re solid. You always deliver, you’re always on time, your performances are strong. You did a very good samba. You even managed to put some bounce into it. Very difficult sections. Well done.”

Carrie Ann Inaba: “Finally! I feel like that was such a breakthrough for you. You’ve got just enough outward, and downward, and forward — you just had the right balance, because sometimes you dance a little small. I still want to remind you: you could just a little bit more pop that chest open, just a little more. Don’t apologize for being here because we love watching you.”

Derek Hough: “When in doubt, shake it out, and you shook it. Every moment … it was so much fun to watch. Like [Tonioli] said before, you had a great bounce in there. Samba is a tough dance, but you made it look easy, my friend. Well done.”

The judges gave McLean straight 9s for a total of 27 out of 30. Not only was that his highest score so far, it was the highest score of the night, tied with Monica Aldama, Kaitlyn Bristowe and Justina Machado. That was his first time this season finishing on top of the judges’ leaderboard, and the season has been so competitive that there have now been seven different celebs at the top — and we’re only six weeks in! Does this mean McLean is an even bigger contender for the Mirror Ball Trophy than we previously thought?

Be sure to make your predictions so that the contestants can see how they’re faring in our racetrack odds. You can keep changing your predictions until just before the next episode airs every Monday on ABC. You’ll compete to win a spot on our leaderboard and eternal bragging rights. See our contest rules and sound off with other fans in our reality TV forum. Read more Gold Derby entertainment news.

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